, Herr Oluf
(1821) draws on the sixteenth-century Danish legend in which anyone who encounters elves is doomed to die. (Herder, incidentally, mistranslates the Danish eller (= ‘elf’) as Erle (= ‘alder tree’).) The piano introduction suggests the lure of the fairy dance and tinkling bells. Then the Erlking’s daughter introduces herself with solemn formality. But the diminished seventh chord on ‘Hand’ gives an ominous warning; and her siren song, marked pp sotto voce, creates a subtly sinister effect by rising through a minor-keyed arpeggio but landing on the leading note, a semitone below the expected tonic. After the frantic horse ride of the central verses and the anxious questioning of Oluf’s mother, a graceful Andantino evokes the innocence of Oluf’s bride. But the Erlking’s daughter has done her work. And, in a final stroke, Oluf’s death comes in a phrase that slyly inverts the fatal seduction song.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2011